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Rowan-Salisbury welcomes eight new principals

Sandy Albert takes lead position in Rowan-Salisbury's Exceptional Children department

Sandy Albert

Sandy Albert is looking to bring a fresh perspective to Rowan-Salisbury’s Exceptional Children program.

“I’ve been working with students with disabilities since I was in high school,” Albert said, explaining that she provided respite services as a teen.

She began her career as a social worker in New York, but when she moved to Virginia in 1996, she got a job working as a teacher assistant in an Exceptional Children program.

“By the summer of ’97, I got my first teaching job,” she said.

Albertson taught in a self-contained classroom for students with autism for two and a half years before moving on to become a program specialist coordinator and eventually the principal of an Exceptional Children program.

After 10 years in Virginia, she moved to Mooresville to become a behavior specialist. Three years later, she was promoted to the Exceptional Children program’s coordinator, and in 2013, she became the director of Exceptional Children.

Albertson said her goals are to increase teamwork and collaboration in Rowan-Salisbury’s Exceptional Children department and to enhance the relationship between the Exceptional Children and general education programs.

“I really like the direction this district is going,” she said, adding that she enjoys the “focus on individualization for those with abilities and disabilities.”

Tonya German, Corriher-Lipe Middle School

Rowan County native Tonya German will take the helm of Corriher-Lipe Middle School this year.

German has an extensive history with the Rowan-Salisbury School System. In addition to being an East Rowan High School graduate, she started her career as a high school science teacher at South Rowan High School.

“I left the classroom to serve as a science specialist at Horizons,” she said. But after several years, she “missed being in the schools.”

That’s when she began looking into becoming an administrator.

German comes to Corriher-Lipe from Knox Middle School, where she served as an assistant principal.

German received her bachelor’s degree in biology with a teaching licensure from Appalachian State University, and a master’s degree in curriculum from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She earned her administrative licensure from Appalachian, as well.

German said Corriher-Lipe seemed like the perfect fit because she loved her time at South Rowan High School.

“It’s the middle school that feeds that high school,” she said. “Those were great teaching years.”

German said her goals are to make student-centered decisions, foster a sense of community and to align structural practices for increased student achievement during her first year at Corriher-Lipe.

She’s married to Daniel German, and they have two daughters, Caylynn, a rising high school junior, and Bella, a rising first-grader.

Karen Anderson, Hurley Elementary School

Former Woodleaf Elementary assistant principal Karen Anderson is the new principal of Hurley Elementary School.

Originally from Whiteville, in the southeastern part of the state, Anderson said she’s passionate about giving back to communities similar to where she grew up and was nurtured.

Anderson has a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State University in elementary education.

She began her career in Wake County and then moved on to Guilford County. While teaching in Guilford County, she was selected to participate in the Piedmont Triad Leadership Academy. Funded through Race to the Top, the program recruits roughly 10 percent of those who apply and prepares principals to lead high-needs schools.

“During that time, I worked in a high school where I supported the freshman academy. After that, I served as an instructional coach at a high-needs elementary,” Anderson said.

Last February, Anderson made her way to Woodleaf Elementary School as an assistant principal.

When she heard about the opening at Hurley Elementary School, she eagerly applied.

“Hurley Elementary really spoke to my passion about the community it serves,” she said. “I felt I had the skill set.”

“There’s a vision here that I’m excited to be a part of,” Anderson said.

“This year, we’re going from good to great,” Anderson said, adding that her goal is to “build a school that is the hub of the community.”

She also wants to provide “engaging and vigorous instruction that’s relevant” to her students and to build their leadership capacity.

She is married to James Anderson, and although they don’t have children of their own, she considers her students her children.

“I have 575 kids. They’re my babies. That’s my life. They’re my family,” she said.

So much so, that when James proposed to her, he did so with the help of her students and principal in her classroom.

“He knew that my ‘heart’ was in the classroom,” she said.

Derek McCoy, West Rowan Middle School

The 2014-15 National Digital Principal of the Year, Derek McCoy will call West Rowan Middle School home this year.

McCoy was born, raised and educated in Georgia.

Despite his interest in math, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in political science from Georgia Southwestern State University.

As he began a graduate program for political theory, his wife challenged him to rethink his career goals.

“Most of my jobs, especially in the summer, have been working with kids,” McCoy said.

So instead of continuing his studies in political theory, McCoy decided to get his master’s degree in middle grades education with a concentration in math at Mercer University.

After graduating from Mercer, McCoy taught middle school math in Georgia, and he later moved to North Carolina to do the same. He moved up the ranks to become an instructional coach and worked one year in a central office. He eventually became an assistant principal, and then a principal.

As principal of Spring Lake Middle School in Cumberland County, McCoy made advances in technology, both at the school and professionally. He was leading two Twitter chats, connecting educators and bringing more technology into his school.

His success led to his recognition as National Digital Principal of the Year.

Last summer, McCoy met a number of Rowan-Salisbury employees at an international technology conference. In December, he once again crossed paths with the district when he was asked to be the keynote speaker at EdCamp Rowan.

It was there that he met Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody, and she shared her passion for digital learning with him.

McCoy said he “fell in love with the environment.”

“When this position came open, I applied for it,” he added.

“My goal is to take a great school and to make it better,” McCoy said.

He added that he already feels that his staff is “tremendous.”

“They look forward to being pushed,” he said, adding that he plans to “raise some high bars” and “keep moving forward.”

McCoy’s wife, Fatema, is also an educator and is serving a contract as an assistant principal in Abu Dhabi. They have two children – Imani, who is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Gary, who is in his second year of law school at North Carolina Central University.

Gerita Walden, Overton Elementary School

Gerita Walden is gearing up for what will be her first full year as principal of Overton Elementary School.

Walden replaced longtime principal Betty Tunks last year when Tunks retired in March. Before filling the principal position, Walden was an assistant principal at the school.

Walden said her goal is to “create a culture of excellence” by showing teachers, staff and students that they are valued.

She’s already begun that by shifting people around to be in the best place for their strengths.

She said she “wants people to feel good about coming to school.”

In time, shifting the culture will shift performance, she said.

Walden has a bachelor’s degree in birth through kindergarten and elementary education, as well as a master’s degree in special education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also has a master’s degree in school administration from North Carolina A&T University. She begins her doctorate program in educational leadership at Gardner-Webb University this fall.

She began her career working for the Department of Defense at Fort Bragg Schools. After that, she moved to Greensboro, where she worked in Montessori and high-needs schools for seven years.

She earned the North Carolina Principal Fellows Scholarship and went back to school full time for two years.

After receiving her degree in school administration, she became an assistant principal at Summerfield Charter Academy outside of Greensboro.

“When I came for my interview (at Overton), it was the first time I’d ever been in the city of Salisbury,” she said. “There was just this sense of family or community.”

“I could not imagine being principal anywhere else,” she said. “It’s just right. I know this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Walden added that she’s never had as much support from staff, students and the community.

“There’s so much potential,” she said.

Her husband, Weaver, is a principal in High Point. They have a son and two stepdaughters.

Kisha Clemons, Koontz Elementary School

Kisha Clemmons is taking the reigns at Koontz Elementary School.

Clemons received her bachelor’s degree in kindergarten through 12th grade music education from Appalachian State University, as well as her master’s degree in school administration.

With an exception of one year thus far, Clemons’ entire teaching career has been in Catawba County. She has served as both a band director and an assistant principal.

Clemmons said she was drawn to Rowan-Salisbury because of all the innovative things going on in the district, such as the balanced literacy model, digital conversion and Connected-Collaborative-Relevant-Personalized model of teaching.

“It’s an exciting place to be,” she said, adding that she wanted to be a part of a district that was transforming and that was implementing “really forward and progressive thinking.”

She said she’s excited about Koontz’s “potential for growth” and she’s impressed with how much the teachers love the students and go above and beyond for them.

Clemons said she plans to focus on literacy and to align school goals with district goals during her first year at Koontz.

“(Literacy) falls into every other content area,” she said.

She added that she wants to bridge the gap between the school and the community so others can see all the good things that are happening at Koontz.

Clemons is not married. She has a boxer mix named Kassi.

Brooke Zehmer, Landis Elementary School

Brooke Zehmer has been Landis Elementary School’s principal since Jan. 5, and she’s excited to begin her first full year at the school.

Originally from Texas and Arkansas, Zehmer moved to Virginia when she was in high school. She attended James Madison University, where she earned a degree in early childhood education.

She taught kindergarten and second grade for four years in Virginia before she and her husband, Lee, moved to Charlotte. Zehmer took time off to raise her children, but when they moved to Lexington nearly 10 years later, she re-entered the work force, teaching second grade.

After another 10 years, Zehmer was accepted into UNC-Greensboro’s master’s in school administration program as a principal fellow.

“As soon as I graduated, I went to Asheboro City Schools as an assistant principal there,” she said.

“Elementary is definitely my love,” Zehmer said. “It’s what I do and what I enjoy.”

She added that she was particularly drawn to Landis. “I like small communities and small towns.”

“We’ve got great kids. They’re excited to be at school. They come from supportive families that are interested in education,” she said, adding that she has a “great” and “supportive” staff as well.

“It’s a great place to be,” Zehmer said.

She said she wants to continue to “build on the foundation” that’s already in place at Landis Elementary by focusing on literacy and looking at how teachers “engage students in the classroom through technology.”

She and Lee have three daughters – twins, who are seniors in high school, and a daughter who is a freshman in high school. Lee is the pastor of First Presbyterian in Lexington.

Katherine Bryant, North Rowan Elementary School

Katherine Bryant has been at North Rowan Elementary since May 4, but Aug. 14 begins her first full year as a principal.

But Bryant hasn’t always worked in the education field. She began her career working for a family business, but once her daughter got to kindergarten and her parents sold their business, she decided she wanted to teach. So she went back to get a master’s degree that would allow her to teach.

She comes to Rowan-Salisbury from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, where she served as a teacher, professional learning coach and, most recently, an assistant principal.

“My specialty is working with Title I schools,” she said.

As a teacher, she taught third and fifth grade, and has specialized in teaching students with behavior issues.

Teaching is her passion, Bryant said. “To this day, I would go back into the classroom.”

She said she was attracted to North Rowan Elementary because of the small town feel of Spencer and “where the district is heading.”

“I love the town of Spencer and the community,” she said, adding that there’s a unique feeling, and that “it’s all about relationships.”

Fostering that community feeling is important to Bryant. So much so, in fact, that she’s partnering with the principals of North Rowan’s middle and high schools to build community identity and pride.

They are “North Strong,” she said, adding that they are working to continuously ask their students one probing question: “Why be ordinary when you can be extraordinary?”

Bryant has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in teaching kindergarten through sixth grade – both from Salem College. She also has a post-master’s certificate in school administration and was a principal intern through the Piedmont Triad Leadership Academy. She’ is working on her doctorate at High Point University.

Bryant has two children, a 22-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter.

Benjamin Crawford, China Grove Middle School

Benjamin Crawford is the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s newest addition to its principal team.

Crawford will take over the top spot at China Grove Middle School in the coming weeks, as he transfers from an assistant principal position with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

He’s worked in a variety of roles at Charlotte-Mecklenburg middle and high schools since 2009, including director of guidance and student services, principal fellow, graduation coach, dean of students and assistant principal. Before that, he was an English teacher at A.L. Brown High School.

He made the switch, however, because he’s heard great things about the Rowan-Salisbury School System.

“I’ve heard and witnessed incredible things about Dr. Moody. I think her strategic plan is solid,” he said. “This is something great that I really want to be a part of.”

This year, Crawford said he plans to do a lot of listening and learning at China Grove Middle School.

“First and foremost, I need to learn how they do business,” he said. “I think it’s important.”

He also said he wants to build strong relationships with teachers, kids and the community, as well as improve the school’s state report card.

The community deserves to have an A or a B school, he said.

Crawford has bachelor’s degrees in English and history, a master’s degree in counseling and a certificate in professional counseling from the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He received his master’s degree in school administration from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2010.

Crawford has been married to his wife, Donna, for 13 years, and they have three children – Madelyn, who is 12, Casey, who is 10, and Abigail, who is 3.



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